Archive for Thursday, March 15, 2007

Tolls could be coming to K-10

March 15, 2007

Motorists who complain about tolls on the Kansas Turnpike may have more to complain about in a couple of years.

The Kansas Department of Transportation is working on a long-range transportation plan for the state.

And a component of that plan may be to put tolls on other roads, officials said Tuesday.

"Tolling on other roads will be an element seriously considered," said Patrick Hurley, chief lobbyist for Economic Lifelines, which was instrumental in getting approval of the state's current transportation plan in 1999.

He spoke Tuesday during a Senate committee meeting dealing with a proposal by Gov. Kathleen Sebelius to increase tolls on the Kansas Turnpike to help finance repairs at public universities.

Sebelius' proposal went nowhere with the Ways and Means Committee. Hurley was at the meeting to testify against the plan because, he said, toll revenues should be used only for transportation improvements.

The current $13 billion, 10-year transportation plan expires in 2008, and officials are laying the groundwork for a new plan.

The current plan has been funded through increases in the state fuel tax and massive borrowing.

Sensing the Legislature opposes further tax increases and is skittish about borrowing, Hurley said KDOT is exploring "innovative sources ... in other states including tolling certain roads."

Kansas Transportation Secretary Deb Miller confirmed that.

"As we look for funding sources for the next transportation program, without question we are going to explore any and all options," she said. "Transportation projects are expensive, they are extremely important to the economic health of the communities of this state, but they don't come easy."

Miller said other states are adding tolls to more roads to help finance highway improvements.

In the past, Hurley said the idea of imposing tolls on Kansas roads other than the turnpike had been avoided because there were few roads with enough traffic where tolls would provide enough income for ongoing maintenance.

One of the only roads in the state that did have enough traffic was Kansas Highway 10 between Lawrence and Johnson County, he said.

Miller said KDOT had done numerous studies, dating to the 1960s, on adding tolls to various highways. But, she said, she didn't think one had been done on K-10.

She said she would oppose simply adding a toll to an existing road unless improvements were made.

"It only makes sense in my mind when you're adding capacity," she said.

Adding tolls has become more popular in other states to avoid tax increases, she said, and because tolls can now be collected electronically without forcing motorists to stop and pay.

Miller said KDOT is scheduled to complete its long-range plan by the end of this year, but it probably won't be ready for legislative consideration until 2009.

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